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Heavy on drama, action and emotional connect, and powered by sharp strategies around multi-language releases, South Indian movies are pulling in big bucks never before imagined in Indian cinema

By: Vidya S. & Prerna Lidhoo
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Picture this. A pesky housefly buzzes in and out of your ears. You swat it and brush it aside. But what if this fly is a vengeful reincarnate, out to avenge its murder in a previous birth? Absurd in reality, surely, but what of a movie? Even there, most people would laugh the idea off, but not S.S. Rajamouli. The director made a VFX-heavy, bilingual revenge saga out of it—Eega in Telugu and Naan Ee in Tamil—and won the hearts of millions of filmgoers, with a small twist. Eega (meaning fly) was a box office super hit in the South, but the Hindi-dubbed Makkhi was a flop in the North.

I put in as few dialogues as possible. I try to communicate everything through visuals. So, language doesn’t play any role at all.

SS Rajamouli
Filmmaker


It’s a little like his own story. As a fly trying to get his film to more audiences, he was called a visionary for taking a Telugu film to Tamil Nadu (in Tamil), Karnataka (Kannada), and Kerala (Malayalam) for the first time. “At the same time, I was ridiculed because I went to the North with Eega and it didn’t succeed there,” says the 48-year-old director, appearing over a Zoom video call. A shock of salt-and-pepper hair complements a black T-shirt proudly proclaiming ‘RRR’, his most recent work, which set the cash registers ablaze. The fictitious tale about two real-life Indian revolutionaries in the pre-Independence era grossed Rs 1,111 crore worldwide, including Rs 265 crore in Hindi net collections alone.

But before that, he stunned the country and beyond with his two-part magnum opus Baahubali: The Beginning and Baahubali: The Conclusion, and effectively altered Indian cinema’s timelines forever—as pre- and post-Baahubali. As audiences lapped up Katappa ne Baahubali ko kyun maara? [Why did Katappa kill Baahubali?], a market was not just created in the North for theatrical releases of Hindi-dubbed south Indian films, but it also paved the way for them to hammer Hindi films in their home turf. Released in 2015, Baahubali: The Beginning set the pace with an impressive lifetime gross of `500 crore in India to become the country’s highest-grossing movie at the time. The next Baahubali edition rolled in `1,416.9 crore. And more recently, four successive super hits from the South—Pushpa: The Rise Part-1, RRR, KGF: Chapter 2 and Vikram (to a much smaller extent in Hindi as Vikram: Hitlist)—have grossed more than Rs 3,000 crore worldwide, including nearly `800 crore in Hindi net collections. Comparatively, the best-performing Hindi films lately—Gangubai Kathiawadi, The Kashmir Files and Bhool Bhulaiyaa 2—have together grossed Rs 811 crore worldwide, including `566 crore net collections in India.


As audiences lapped up Katappa ne Baahubali ko kyun maara? [Why did Katappa kill Baahubali?], a market was not just created in the North for theatrical releases of Hindi-dubbed south Indian films, but it also paved the way for them to hammer Hindi films in their home turf.

From January 2020 to April 2022, of the country’s Rs 9,759-crore cumulative gross box office collection, the four south Indian languages contributed 57.3 per cent. Hindi managed 31 per cent. Seven of the top 10 grossers in this span were from the South, pegs Ormax Media data.

Clearly, Rajamouli has sown the seeds of south Indian cinema’s dominance of Indian movie theatres across the country, with others following in his footsteps. The tale of this transformation, with many nuances and twists, would make for a movie of its own.

Let’s stay with Makkhi for a bit. The movie, which released in 2012, earned cult status on TV (the Hindi-dubbed version) and taught Rajamouli a valuable lesson—he needed the right people to present a film in Hindi. Not too far away, it brought similar realisations to producers Shobu Yarlagadda and Prasad Devineni, who would go on to produce the Baahubali films. “Makkhi should have been the first pan-India film. That didn’t happen and it was a learning for us as to why it didn’t happen and that’s how we pushed the Baahubali films,” says Yarlagadda, CEO & Co-founder of Arka Mediaworks. Elsewhere, amid Bollywood’s bustle, the little fly caught the attention of film distributor Anil Thadani. “Actually, my first attempt of working with Rajamouli sir was in Makkhi. Someone beat me to it. After I missed the bus in Makkhi, I realised Baahubali is a film I will never let go at whatever cost,” says the Founder of AA Films.

When Rajamouli walked into the Arka Mediaworks office with a grand idea about a woman crossing a river with baby in her hand, the producers knew it had to be taken to the rest of the country to recover the costs. With their combined learnings from the past, they assembled a team of Dharma Productions, AA Films and Mumbai-based PR agency Spice to present, distribute and market the film in the North. Nearly three years, several sleepless nights and Rs 180 crore in total budget later, Baahubali: The Beginning was ready for release in July 2015.

Five out of 200 south Indian films have worked pan-India during this time. Bollywood should have released 70 films but only 20 released finally because the rest went to OTTs. The success rate in films is 5-10 per cent. This ratio is true for films from North and South.

Jayantilal Gada
Chairman & MD
Pen India


The talk in the Dharma office was that the Hindi version would make Rs 15-20 crore, says Yarlagadda. “That was disappointing because it would not have even recovered the marketing costs.” When release day dawned, prospects seemed even bleaker. It seemed the film would be washed out even in Telugu. “There was a moment when we were thinking, ‘Would it mean that we might have to do without the second part?’,” he laughs nervously now. But the collections started picking up in the evening, and raced through the roof. More important than the Rs 500 crore that the movie raked in was the fact that it overshot their estimation in Hindi by more than 7.5x, mopping up Rs 150 crore gross, while holding its own against Salman Khan’s Bajrangi Bhaijaan. “It’s all credit to Anil Thadani. He insisted that we need a lot more screens for the Hindi-dubbed version,” says Yarlagadda, breaking into a smile, the relief evident on his face even after all these years.

To be fair, this is not the first time south Indian films dubbed into Hindi are working well theatrically. Distributors roll out the names of successful movies by Tamil film-makers Mani Ratnam and Shankar—Roja, Bombay, Hindustani, Robot and, more recently, 2.0 with Akshay Kumar as the villain. Those in the trade are also quick to caution that for the handful of films that have worked, several more haven’t. For instance, Prabhas-starrer Radhe Shyam, which was pushed in Hindi on the might of the Baahubali actor, tanked. “Five out of 200 south Indian films have worked pan-India during this time. Bollywood should have released 70 films but only 20 released finally because the rest went to OTTs. The success rate in films is 5-10 per cent. This ratio is true for films from North and South,” says Jayantilal Gada, Chairman & MD of Pen India. He calls it a temporary effect, in part due to Bollywood’s weak pipeline.

Meanwhile, Hindi hits remade in the South have also fared well lately, including Badhaai Ho (Veetla Vishesham), Article 15 (Nenjuku Needhi) and Pink (Nerkonda Paarvai/Vakeel Saab), even as Bollywood is resting its hopes on two large-scale films—Shamshera and the Brahmãstra trilogy, both starring Ranbir Kapoor.

But what has rattled Bollywood is the quick succession and scale of the recent southern hits in Hindi. “The only major change in the last two to three years is that dubbing is no longer limited to satellite viewing,” says Ormax Media’s Founder and CEO, Shailesh Kapoor. That one major shift has come as a boon for both single-screens and multiplexes. Trade analyst Sreedhar Pillai points out that major multiplexes did not screen Hindi-dubbed versions of south Indian films even two years ago. “Now, it is their bread and butter because Pushpa, RRR, KGF2 and Vikram are bringing in the footfalls, which drive food and beverage sales. In the exhibition business, the profits come from the concession stands.”

Makkhi should have been the first pan-India film. That didn’t happen and it was a learning for us as to why it didn’t happen and that’s how we pushed the Baahubali films.

Shobu Yarlagadda
Producer
Baahubali


So, what are they doing right? “Content!” Pat comes the reply from almost everybody interviewed for this piece. The stories themselves are not brand new, but the storytelling is. “An uncle killing the father and the son taking revenge can be Lion King or Baahubali or a stereotypical Bhojpuri film. It’s about how you make that storytelling accessible intellectually to the widest possible audience,” says Nagpur-based exhibitor and distributor Akshaye Rathi, Director of Aashirwad Theatres Pvt. Ltd. Make enough room to weave in larger-than-life action sequences and visual effects organically, and you just may have a winner.

“I put in as few dialogues as possible. I try to communicate everything through visuals. So, language doesn’t play any role at all,” says Rajamouli, an agnostic whose tales are replete with mythological themes of reincarnation and revenge, brought to life using heavy doses of modern-day technologies. Ever the director, he pushes a table outside the Zoom frame for creating too much white space, before settling in for the conversation from Hyderabad. “Language is not a barrier,” he says. “It’s a medium.” Yet, he finds it easiest to make films in Telugu, a language he thinks in. “How do I make my story understood by more number of people? The automatic decision is to dub it into a language that other people understand. But that is not as simple as it sounds. I dubbed RRR into five languages. So, why didn’t I go into Gujarati? Rajasthani? Bengali? Punjabi?”

Simply put, a market has to be created. RRR worked in Hindi because the Baahubali team had already laid the groundwork. “Our main challenge was in the first part itself. How do we get the message across?” The second part, in comparison, was a cakewalk, says producer Yarlagadda. From getting a Facebook page up and running from day one of the shoot, releasing behind-the scenes videos on Facebook and YouTube even as filming progressed, using Google Trends and other social media analytics to monitor traction, sending actors to colleges in Punjab and Kolkata to promote the film and boost viewership, presenting it at the Delhi Comic Con, and tying up with the Indian Railways to give out Baahubali teacups on select intercity routes, they went all out to engage with north Indian audiences. “Maharashtra and Mumbai and all are easier to penetrate. But as you go North to Punjab and the Hindi heartland, it takes a little longer,” says Yarlagadda, adding that at the peak, 20 people worked in-house directly on marketing.

When the efforts paid off, it showed other film-makers what was possible. “It’s all thanks to Rajamouli and Yarlagadda for making pan-India films and giving us the confidence,” says Vijay Kiragandur, Co-founder of Hombale Group, which produced the KGF movies. It was a meeting with Rajamouli in Bengaluru two months before KGF1’s release that set the ball rolling. They showed him an 8-10-minute show-reel cut of the film on an iPad, and he asked them to go pan-India. “People in Karnataka were saying we are spending more on marketing than production in KGF1. [His words] gave us the confidence to spend that much. Otherwise also we would have gone all out, but would not have taken that much of a risk unless we heard it from the horse’s mouth,” says Kiragandur.

Rajamouli helped bring Thadani on board, who in turn brought in Excel Entertainment also to distribute the film. But it clashed with Shah Rukh Khan-starrer Zero at the box office and ended up with fewer screens in the north. KGF1, released in December 2018, was a huge success in Kannada and collected around `45 crore net in Hindi. KGF2, released in April 2022, made nearly 10 times as much in Hindi and grossed `1,200 crore worldwide. The success was intentional, and quite scientific.

Hombale Films, part of the Hombale Group, put the pandemic break between the two parts to good use and commissioned BookMyShow to conduct field surveys in 55 cities to check awareness about the film. “Ninety-eight per cent of the people knew about KGF. Out of that, 95 per cent wanted to see KGF2,” says Kiragandur. TV and streaming had carried it to the audiences of other languages. An analysis of the YouTube views for the teaser, which has garnered 270 million views so far, showed significant interest for the film in Tamil Nadu, West Bengal, Rajasthan, and Gujarat, and in the international markets of Malaysia, Singapore, the US and Canada. When they released the film in more screens in those pockets, they found that box office collections mirrored the YouTube analytics and survey data. “Though it is a Kannada movie, we got more interest from TN. The BO result was also the same and we never expected it.” Big film or small, Kiragandur says, they always get a survey done pre-shoot and one pre-release. “You cannot give whatever you like to the audience and make them watch it. First, you have to understand their behaviour, mindset and taste.”

Actually, my first attempt of working with Rajamouli sir was in Makkhi. Someone beat me to it. After I missed the bus in Makkhi, I realised Baahubali is a film I will never let go at whatever cost.

Anil Thadani
Founder
AA Films

 

'I let the art do the driving and let the economics follow': SS Rajamouli

Film-maker SS Rajamouli explains the interplay of creativity and business in the art of making films

By Krishna Gopalan, Prerna Lidhoo & Vidya S.

CREDITED WITH THE SUCCESS of three of the top 5 highest-grossing pan-India films of all time, Writer and Director SS Rajamouli’s creations have tasted amazing success at the box office. Having come out of the stables of the south Indian film industry, his films, Baahubali: The Beginning (2015), Baahubali 2: The Conclusion (2017), and RRR (2022) have broken through the shackles of language, culture, and geographies, to appeal to all classes of the very selective Indian audiences, ranging from the multiplex crowd to the single-screen regulars. Business Today recently caught up with the 48-year-old Hyderabad-based film-maker to hear him decode his winning formula. Edited excerpts:

Why do you think the films that you’ve originally made in Telugu have worked so well in Hindi?

The first thing is that I don’t differentiate between Hindi and Telugu. I am trying to talk in the visual language, and not in the language that the actors are speaking. Language is just a medium of talking. That’s one part of communication, but the bigger communication is happening through visuals in my films. I don’t want to see language as a barrier.

Does Bollywood need to rethink its content strategy?

There’s no good and bad; it’s bigger successes and lesser successes. Even Hindi films have had successes in the last six months; it’s not like every Hindi film has been unsuccessful.

Also, it’s not like every film from the South has done well. But what [has] happened is that the success of south Indian movies has been much bigger than the success of the Hindi film industry during this season. They have outperformed. As film-makers, we can’t take all the credit as it’s also the audience.

For many years now, from the ’90s, the Hindi film industry has travelled more towards the lighter veined, heart-warming, subtle kind of storytelling. They have done great films and had big successes in love and romance genres.

But a large number of people who love action films and hardcore entertainment felt a bit left out. In Telugu, Tamil or Kannada we had to do that [make such films]because we’re making films only for one state, and we have to get all audiences into the theatres. We kept on making those kind of films, and these films reached people in north Indian states, who were not getting the kind of entertainment they wanted. This happened for a long time, for a period of 20-25 years, without any of us knowing.

How do you strike a balance between creativity and commerce?

I am aware of what the economics of a film are. It is not that I blindly increase the budgets and go ahead with them. I strongly believe that the director and producer have to collectively take a decision and go forward. So, basically art and commerce both have to travel together. The way I do it is, I generally have a rough idea of the budgets, but once I start working on the story, I don’t think anything about the economics, I just let my mind go free. I develop whatever I want to, and once everything is done, we look at the economics: how much is this going to cost? How much will the market value be? Are we within a reasonable distance? That will be a long discussion, and if I need to trim in some places, I will trim, and if I can go broader on some areas, I will. I am very well aware of the economics, but I let the art do the driving and let the economics follow.

What was the distribution and dubbing strategy behind RRR? How did you go about choosing the markets within north India?

As a storyteller, I want my story to be seen by different kinds of audiences; by a large number of people. So, how do I make my story understood by more number of people? The automatic decision is to dub it into a language that other people understand. That’s a natural fallout of it. The money, also, will flow in. But it is not as simple as it sounds. I dubbed RRR into five languages. Why didn’t I dub it into Gujarati, Rajasthani or Bengali, if dubbing itself is going to get you money? It’s not so easy. There is a way to communicate with people, that I’m not coming in your language and that communication takes a huge amount of time and money. So, then you judge which is the best way to do it, and go forward. After Baahubali, it’s not rocket science to understand that RRR will find traction in markets like Uttar Pradesh, for example.

Does Hindi-dubbed versions doing well mean that there’s not as much space for Telugu and Tamil remakes?

It depends on what kind of film you’re making. If the film-maker in South, for example, feels his story has a pan-India kind of an appeal, then he will make it on the dynamics of a pan-India film. So obviously, there is no chance of a remake. But if I find a story that is very compelling, and we feel that it is a regional film, then we make it in our own languages.

A story like Maryada Ramanna, for example, I will only make in Telugu because I loved that story. If it’s a smaller story, I’m okay with someone taking the story and making it in multiple languages.

If I’m making a bigger story, and I’m making a pan-India film itself, the economics [of making a remake] doesn’t work. When I’m making a big film across the country, someone taking the same story and doing it in a different language again doesn’t make any sense.

After the advent of OTTs, is there a distinction that massy, big-ticket films will go to the theatres while high-concept films will be reserved for OTTs?

A bit of yes, and a bit of no. There will be classification of films which tilt more towards OTT and films which tilt towards the big cinemas. Or, in other words, there will be films which the audience would want to watch in the cinemas, and those they would prefer to watch on a personal device. But the classification is not big spectacle versus high concept. Even smaller films have done well in cinemas.

When you go to the cinema, you are going to watch the film with a large number of people but there is some kind of connect. You are all together in that three-hour journey. There are films that provide that kind of a combined entertainment [experience] for those 200-400 people. OTT would not give you the same experience. And, there are some films where you’re just connected with the content on the screen. Those kind of films, people would prefer to watch on OTTs. That’s my take on it, my assumption. I don’t know whether I’m right, or wrong.

You’ve spoken about being an agnostic person, but your films have mythological themes. How do you decide on your themes?

My personal opinions, my thoughts, and my lifestyle have nothing to do with my profession. I keep that completely separate. Professionally, I am different. I don’t try to rub my thoughts on to my characters, or on to my storytelling. So, when I start writing a story, for me, it is the emotion I should be moved by. I might be agnostic, but when I see a good film, like for example, Annamayya, a Telugu film which is about a devotee of Lord Venkateshwara, and when I see the climax, I cry. It is a conversation between God and the man, his disciple. I might not believe in God, but I connect to the emotion of a devotee and a God. And, I connect to the emotion that drives masses: devotion and submission to a greater self.

I understand the power of that emotion, the power of a mass emotion, and I too feel that emotion. I might not believe in God, but I believe in the emotion, and if it moves me, I write it.

 


Unlike the other films whose national success came about intentionally, Allu Arjun-starrer Pushpa was different. Again, it was Rajamouli who encouraged the makers to consider Hindi markets. But left with hardly any time for marketing, the makers relied entirely on TV promotions and Thadani’s distribution might to carry the film. “We were clear that with our budgets, we would be able to recover the money in our core markets. Hindi was just a trial and error,” says Mythri Movie Makers Co-founder Y. Ravi Shankar. But the tale of Pushpa Raj, a coolie with a stumble mouthing the catchphrase Thaggede Le/Main Jhukega Nahi (I will not bow down), and his rise among the red sandalwood mafia, caught the imagination of the masses, spawning countless Instagram Reels and memes. “We were definitely surprised by the success outside south India. We never thought it will be so massive because we didn’t give much time for promotions,” says Shankar.

Regretting not promoting Pushpa and their previous venture Rangasthalam starring Ram Charan, in the North, he talks of a Nepal-based distributor who, pre-release, was willing to pay any price for a print of the film. Still amazed by the breadth of the film’s success, an exuberant Shankar says: “While travelling from Turkey, I met a film-maker from Pakistan’s Multan. He said, ‘Sir, Pushpa, what a song, sir!” Armed with hindsight, the makers plan to release the sequel in 10 languages and several neighbouring countries by August 2023, but only after vigorously promoting the film in every possible part of India for two months. Shankar sees the promotion budget jump almost 5x to `50 crore this time.

We were clear that with our budgets, we would be able to recover the money in our core markets. Hindi was just a trial and error.

Y. Ravi Shankar
Co-founder
Mythri Movie Makers


But the credit doesn’t belong to the film-makers and producers from the South alone. It’s a trend in the making for almost 25 years now. Ironically, some trace it back to the super-hit Hindi movie Dil Chahta Hai (2001). Farhan Akhtar’s directorial debut about the coming-of-age of three friends is one of the first films to be considered an urban or a multiplex hit. “It’s a very cool and truly phenomenal film. It got many people to replicate that urban success. As multiplex penetration grew in urban India, film-making sensibilities changed,” says Rathi. Film-makers in the North began catering to the NRI and metro audiences. The glitz and pomp of multiplexes meant that tickets were priced at 3x of single-screen rates. The logic was that one multiplex viewer equals three single-screen viewers.

As it is, India is under-screened with about 8,000 movie screens compared to China’s 80,000. Dhishoom Cinemas’ CEO Tushar Dhingra estimates that 5,000 of the 5,564 sub-districts in the country don’t have a cinema theatre. “That’s one structural gap we have as a country that needs to be filled,” he says. The South alone accounts for nearly half the country’s screens, with its propensity for single-screens mostly intact. Says Rajamouli: “In Telugu, Tamil or Kannada, we kept on making films catering to single-screen audiences as well because we’re making films only for one state and we have to get all the audiences to the theatre.”

On the other hand, Rathi says, Bollywood ignored 75 per cent of the population with multiplex content and ticket pricing. They forgot that urban audiences have many avenues for recreation, but the choice for smaller cities is usually between watching a movie and eating out. “That has become the undoing of the Hindi film industry in some sense, where a bulk of the population looking for escapist viewing has been alienated. They found their entertainment in SET Max and Star Gold through Allu Arjun, Junior NTR and Ram Charan.”

Delhi-based distributor and Proprietor of Bobby Enterprises, Sanjay Mehta, picks Pushpa and KGF2 particularly as saviours for single-screen theatres in the Delhi-UP belt. “When the Omicron restrictions stopped the flow of Hindi films again, Pushpa saw exhibitors sail through a tough time.” “Initially, I had seven shows of 83 and two to three shows of Pushpa. Within three to four days, it was the other way around. This was the general trend in other theatres, too,” says Pratapgarh-based Pavan Agarwal, who owns DD Cinemas, a chain of 20 cinema screens in 11 UP districts. To cash in on the extraordinary demand for KGF2, he raised his ticket rates from `150 and `200 to `200 and `250, without seeing any decline in footfalls. Sounding like a true showbiz man, he says: “Shauk ki keemat nahi hoti!” Translated, that would be “Passion is priceless!”

Says Applause Entertainment CEO Sameer Nair: “We used to play Indra: The Tiger (Hindi dub of Telugu film Indra) and our ratings were sorted for two weeks.” Telugu films and their stars—be they Chiranjeevi, Nagarjuna, Mahesh Babu or Allu Arjun—gradually cultivated a big fan base among Hindi-speaking audiences through satellite TV and, recently, YouTube. Meanwhile, their storytelling style was also getting accepted theatrically. “The biggest Hindi blockbusters of Akshay Kumar and Salman Khan from 2007-12 were remakes of south Indian films,” says Amit Sharma, MD of Miraj Cinemas. When Pushpa, RRR and KGF2 burst on to the screens in quick succession with substantial marketing and heroes who had been accepted by the masses, the parched audiences found an oasis in the desert. “Until now, we had some misconceptions that these kinds of films don’t do well in multiplexes. Classy films may not be liked by the mass audience. But massy films will be liked by the class audience,” says Mythri’s Shankar.

Now that the Vindhyas no longer pose an imposing barrier for films to travel across, the scope of the business is expanding. For one, theatre owners are a happy lot over higher chances of profits. “Whether Hindi, Telugu, Tamil or Kannada, they are creating stronger content. Earlier, out of 52 weeks in a year, you would expect 15-20 weeks to do well. Now, the expectation is 26-30 weeks,” says Dhishoom’s Dhingra. Second, it has laid threadbare the opportunity for multiplexes and single-screens to go deeper into India. Exhibitors in Tier II and III towns are opting for 3D screens and Dolby Atmos sound, says distributor Mehta. “They realise these are the films you can fight an OTT with. To get the audience back to the theatres, you have to give them something they cannot get at home.”

More importantly, film budgets are ballooning. “Not for every film. For a few, yes, especially those with pan-India appeal,” says Yarlagadda. Agreeing, Shankar estimates Pushpa 2 will require Rs 500 crore. Miraj Cinemas’ Sharma sees films getting made on Rs 500-600 crore budgets more commonly now. “The recovery of the film was the reason for making it within a certain budget. From here on, a content maker can take the production cost to the next level and we can compete with Hollywood.”

People in Karnataka were saying we are spending more on marketing than production in KGF1. [Rajamouli’s words] gave us the confidence to spend that much. Otherwise also we would have gone all out, but would not have taken that much of a risk unless we heard it from the horse’s mouth.

Vijay Kiragandur
Co-founder
Hombale Group


It’s also amply aided by the pandemic-accelerated trend of OTTs buying digital rights of films at hefty rates before their theatrical release. Increasingly, the non-theatrical rights decide the film’s financial fate. The box office collection is just the icing on the cake. For example, Kamal Haasan-starrer Vikram, made on an estimated budget of Rs 150 crore, earned around Rs 100 crore through the pre-sale of satellite and digital rights. “Non-theatrical rights are covering 50-75 per cent and occasionally even 100 per cent of your cost, depending on whether it is a big- or medium budget film,” says Yarlagadda. So, a film producer’s risk appetite increases because he knows he can recoup 50 per cent investment from other avenues, says Sharma. “That incentivises the content maker to make bigger budget films, which eventually yield better BO numbers.” Plus, OTTs can also cultivate a global audience for Indian films and open up untapped markets much like what TV did for Allu Arjun and Pushpa in the North. “Our overseas box office collection is a minuscule number. We only screen films where we have Indian diaspora such as Australia, New Zealand, the Middle-East, the UK and North America. What about eastern European and Latin American markets?” asks Sharma.

As the seeds have been sown for all kinds of cross pollinations, interesting collaborations are already taking shape. For instance, RRR (Ajay Devgn, Alia Bhatt) and KGF2 (Raveena Tandon, Sanjay Dutt) already showcased Bollywood star power. More are following suit: KGF’s Director and Producer Prashanth Neel and Hombale Films are teaming up with Prabhas for Telugu film Salaar. Shah Rukh Khan’s upcoming film Jawan is directed by Tamil director Atlee and co-stars Nayanthara. Vijay Sethupathi and Katrina Kaif are uniting for Merry Christmas. “Bollywood faces like Dutt, Devgn, Bhatt, etc., were a part of pan-India films so that north Indian audiences could relate to a known face. But there’s no formula. For example, neither of the Baahubali movies have a north Indian face and still it did well,” says Kiragandur. However, he sees this as the way forward. “We have to walk together, there’s no language barrier now. It’s an Indian movie.”

One is tempted to say “Amen”.  

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